The Silent Epidemic No One Wants to Encounter
Doris Findley of the Jason Foundation has a job that no one envies. She speaks to people about suicide, especially among teen-agers and children. Yes, even children talk about and sometimes attempt suicide. Here are some of the facts she tells her audiences.The Jason Foundation (www.jasonfoundation.com) was started after the suicide of Jason, an average 16-year-old who seemed to have everything to live for. He was the son of Clark Flatt, now the CEO and President of The Jason Foundation, Inc., a non-profit organization dedicated to the prevention of suicide.
Statistics about teen-age suicide are appalling. Over 100 young people become victims of suicide every week. Every year 5,000 young people between the ages of 10 and 24 commit suicide. Every day 5,400 young people between the ages of 12 and 19 attempt suicide.
Girls attempt suicide three times more frequently than boys with the number one reason being peer pressure, but boys complete the act four times more often than girls because they use guns. Girls choose suffocation or drugs (poison) more often. Boys use guns twice as often as girls.
In Tennessee recently, a 31 per cent reduction of suicide in children between 10 and 14 has occurred but the numbers are up in other age groups.
Suicide is the third leading cause of death in the 10 to 25 age group with accidents of all types being the number one cause; however, it is impossible to know how many “accidents” are actually suicide because there has to be evidence (note or telling a friend, for example) for the death to be ruled a suicide. The second more frequent cause of death in this age group is homicide.
“Since 1980, there has been a 100 per cent increase in suicides in the 10 to 14 age group. About 1,100 college age students commit suicide every year and it is the second most frequent cause of death in that age group.
Depression occurs and is directly linked to the person who commits suicide. Nationally, the Youth Risk Behavior Survey revealed that 28.5 per cent of those taking the survey said they had felt sad and hopeless for more than two weeks and 15.6 per cent said they had contemplated suicide within the past year. Additionally, 12.8 per cent said they had made a plan for suicide and 7.8 per cent said they had attempted suicide—that’s one in 13 kids.
The statistics for the Youth Risk Behavior Survey in Tennessee are as follows: 25.9 per cent felt sad and hopeless; 14.7 per cent considered suicide; 11.1 per cent had made a plan to commit suicide; and 6.2 per cent had attempted suicide.
Education is the key to reducing these statistics. In four out of five cases, there are clear warning signs that could help intervene before the person is successful—but intervention is not always successful.
One of every 15 suicides is successful, but ONE is TOO MANY.
Three groups need to be educated in order to recognize symptoms: youth, parents and educators. The Jason Foundation offers a resources program for parents and the Community Assistance Resource Line is at 1-877-778-2275. If you have concerns about a child, you can call this number 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Here are some ways you can help prevent suicide:
One, learn about the symptoms and help increase awareness through seminars, the news media, church-sponsored programs and civic organization presentations.
Two, help dispel myths. It is NOT true that by talking to someone about suicide to educate, you will give that person the idea to commit suicide. It is NOT true that someone who talks about suicide is not at risk. In fact, if they are talking about it, they are 30 per cent more likely to try it. Never take “I feel like killing myself” as an idle threat. It is NOT true that suicide is impulsive and there is nothing you can do to prevent it. The trigger event that causes the person to take action is just the last thing they can take, not the reason!
Here are the signs of concern that persist over time: (Witnessing several signs at once constitute real threats and some behaviors that seem “out of character” should not be ignored.)
- Suicide threats like “I would be better off dead,” or “I wish I had never been born,” or “I wish I was dead,” or “I’m going to kill myself” are immediate cries for help.
- Previous attempts are serious and must be addressed. Most children and teen-agers will say after the attempt that they didn’t want to die. Parents and educators must see that these people get assistance.
- Depression is a serious condition. One in 10 of all teenagers is clinically depressed. Some of the “out of character” behaviors that can occur are becoming either extremely quiet or suddenly becoming the class clown to mask the sadness inside; an abrupt change in attendance at school; uncharacteristic low academic performance (a good student who begins failing); failure to complete assignments; lack of interest and withdrawal from previously enjoyed activities; a sudden change in appearance; changed relationships with classmates (reducing their social circle to only one or two people); becoming more irritable or aggressive; preoccupation with death or suicide; despairing attitude; abrupt changes in eating and sleeping habits; and failure to take baths or change clothes.
- The person contemplating suicide may begin giving away all possessions. Some give away their jewelry, clothing, collections, and even their driver’s licenses.
- Many make the rounds to say good-by to those they know.
- Some share their funeral plans. “If I should die, would you make sure that they play my favorite song or put roses on my casket,” etc.
These people need professional help. That is not an option, but a necessity.
These are children with elevated risks: the perfectionist; depressed teens; loners; those with low self-esteem; someone with a changed social or school status; youths who have been abused, molested or neglected; a victim of bullying; gay or lesbian youths; the learning disabled; students who are frequently in trouble; and those who abuse alcohol and/or drugs.
Be a friend to young people. Talk with them. Find out what’s on their minds. If you feel that they are in crisis, take positive action and don’t leave it to someone else.
The life you save is worth saving. This is truly where we cannot leave any child behind.